Robot Subscription Services Let Companies Automate on the Cheap
The plans cost as little as $8 an hour, helping smaller businesses dodge high wages and labor shortages.Society has long worried that the widespread adoption of robots will displace workers and eliminate jobs. But rather than fearing the arrival of automatons, Shakerria Grier, a 27-year-old quality auditor at Georgia-based Thomson Plastics Inc., is relieved to get the help. In late 2020, Thomson began installing robots that take plastic parts, such as fenders for ATVs or covers for lawn mowers, out of hot-molding machines and place them on a conveyor belt that brings them to Grier. In the past, workers had extracted the parts, with Grier making the rounds among nine machines to troubleshoot for defects. “My job is way easier,” she says. “Before the robot, I would have to go to every station and make sure the parts are good. It was a lot of walking.”
The robots are coming—and not just to big outfits like automotive or aerospace plants. They’re increasingly popping up in smaller U.S. factories, warehouses, retail stores, farms, and even construction sites. The pandemic has kicked orders for robots into high gear as companies deal with a labor shortage, rising wages, and a surge in demand for their products. U.S. robot orders jumped 28% in 2021 from the previous year, to an all-time high of almost 40,000 units, according to trade group Association for Advancing Automation, and they’re expected to increase again this year.
At the same time, advances in vision, mobility, machine learning, and dexterity have expanded dramatically the variety of tasks the machines can do.
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